Dudes, it's real. This... actually happened!

I can't tell you how happy I am with how this project turned out!

Please check out our short film, Advantageous, the first film in the new season of Futurestates!

This was the dialogue editing project I may have mentioned earlier. I think I was also credited as a post-production producer, which I probably at least half-deserved, even though the timeframe was short.

The film is about 20 minutes and you will be floored. Put it up on a big screen, turn up the volume, etc. There's even a great making-of feature, with intelligent interviews, and some short essays about the motivations behind the film, and so on. A really nice website with great quality playback. I'm really looking forward to checking out the other films in the series, and from previous seasons, too!

krasnoludek, I expect your analysis and review shortly! Better watch the rest of the films too, young man!

It is time for a beer or two

By the way, seeing as how I wasn't done with grad school until a week after landing in Europe, and I'll now be back in town (as of Friday afternoon), some local celebration might finally be in order!

Gonna be hanging out with my brother Robin on Sunday (8/15) to do who knows what shenanigans (a nice lunch? a movie?), and at around 6pm heading to the Albatross Pub to sit and compare their many brews to the European varieties I've been sampling the last three weeks. (Yeah it's the quiz night, don't know if we'll be interested in that or not). Should be there for several hours... maybe even past midnight? 21 and over only, sorry!

So hey, simply show up if you're interested in the pub, or get in touch with me if you want to hang out during the day beforehand.

There, that's better. Good Prague. (pat pat pat)

Well, before yesterday I wasn't entirely convinced that it had been worth it to spend my few vacation days in Europe with a little side trip to Prague. But I decided to spend my last day fully devoted to the region's Jewish history, and came away quite impressed with the multi-building Jewish museum, whose exhibits are organized in very sensible fashion as you go from synagogue to synagogue, with everything explained very clearly in Czech and English (but not German, which is quite indicative of the decline of German-speaking people in the area since the time before the two World Wars). The two most profound parts were the handpainted lists of names of people from the towns and cities of Bohemia and Moravia who are known to have been murdered by the Nazis, covering the walls of Pinkas Synagogue, and the terribly moving exhibit on children's artistic efforts from the transitional concentration camp at Terezín/Theresienstadt northwest of Prague. This is where the Jews established some form of self-government and education which the Germans eventually encouraged for propaganda purposes as their "model camp". A model camp where almost all of the residents, living under the shadow of transport to "the east" that could come at any moment, did indeed end up there after a few short weeks or months (i.e., sent straight to Auschwitz) where they mostly went directly to the gas chamber. Every piece of artwork is from some kid roughly 10-15 years old, with the date of birth, date of the artwork, and date of their death at Auschwitz, with each panel organized into themes the kids had put into their work, like their persecution and ostracism in their villages during the year or two prior to deportation, and life in the camps, and some truly hauntingly raw portrayals of single concepts such as works that were titled simply "fear".

This was all especially profound for me since I had just come upstairs from seeing scores of my distant relatives' names all over the walls of the synagogue. I had no idea I would find even a single recognizable name, let alone all these scores of people from the families of my mom's grandparents on her father's side (more on that in a locked post). After the halls of names, you pass through the unbelievably concentrated old Jewish cemetery, where nearly every headstone is in contact with several others on all sides, all of them at crazy angles.

So anyway, after that nice full day of gut-wrenching holocaustin', (but try the museum in D.C. if you want the full-blast all-day firehose), I had some extra Czech monies to burn before leaving, and I just happened to walk into a grocery full of many Czech beers at nice cheap prices (less than a dollar per 0.5 liter bottle). I ended up with a big bag of them (along with some sensible bananas and plums) and took a detour to the Náměstí Míru metro stop (the longest escalator in Prague and one of the longest in the world, apparently, at 290 feet), where I carried my quarry up and down in a victory lap before heading back to my hostel for the night. Hardly slept, though, because half the people in the room were out clubbing until 4 am, and when they came back they all started chatting about their sister who goes to BU or whatever nonsense, and texting with their cellphones which weren't even on silent, and typing away on laptops, as if there weren't a bunch of people in the room trying to sleep. Maybe I've outgrown the desire to sleep in communal quarters... it's just too hit and miss when it comes to people behaving sensibly.

The train ride toward Holland today has been very fun -- ended up in a compartment with a girl from Vancouver (I didn't ask if her name was Alberta, but I kind of wish I had), a jolly Westfalian, and a Czech woman who lives in the UK with an English husband and was traveling with her mother. I had seven bottles of beer with me, fresh from the fridge, so the German and I had two each, which had to pass the Czech mother's smile-vs-frown test before they could be approved for consumption :-) Just one of those nice train rides where you talk about all kinds of things and have a great time, then go your separate ways without ever learning each other's names.

Upon arrival in the Netherlands, it turned out that Nijmegen is currently really hard to get to from the east or north due to construction at the Arnhem station, so I got all super-detoured for an extra hour and a half, heading west over to Amersfoort, then southwest to Utrecht, then southeast to Denbosch (which is actually spelled with a word beginning with an appostrophe, 's-Hertogenbosch, so no wonder they call it by a different name... also, check out that hilarious coat of arms! A couple of woodsmen "dressed" in what appear to be a light sprinkling of vines, wielding enormous smash-your-head clubs), then finally northeast to Nijmegen. Got to see the lovely countryside, absolutely full of cows of various colors and sizes! I think there was even a farm of miniature Dexters. Lots of horses and ponies too, with the young kiddos doing eyebrow-raising things like trying to hump their mothers. And a scarecrow in a field of crops that looked like a small orange octopus, or perhaps a Cthulhu? Meanwhile on the final train to Nijmegen someone immediately started banging on the doors, from the inside, when they closed and the train began its journey, and she kept on sobbing and wailing and ranting like a crazy person for at least 20 minutes, though I couldn't understand a word. The Netherlands, a dimension of crazy and/or awesome. I kind of really want to see what Amsterdam must have in store, at this rate.

confused about foreign showers...

I know folks do thing differently over here (came in to Berlin today), but I'm just not at all sure about what one is supposed to do given that the shower isn't sunk into the floor... and the floor is continuous out to the rest of the bathroom, and the whole floor becomes a lake whenever you take a shower. Yes, there's a small rubber grid one can stand on when at the sink, but there's nothing right in front of the toilet. So, is everyone supposed to walk around in the water in bare feet? Or wearing shoes and leaving mud everywhere? I don't get it. Showers were this way in China too, but cheap plastic shower slippers are available for purchase on every street corner... it's ingrained in the culture, and easy to adopt.

I just asked the people at reception where I could get some shower slippers/thongs/flip-flops, and they didn't understand what I wanted them for. I tried to express, well, obviously, there is a choice one has to make... walk barefoot in a lake of water, or leave mud all over the bathroom and the main room from one's shoes, because when you take a shower the water goes all over the bathroom. And get this, the guy actually tells me, "well yes, just like every shower in the world..." Wow. I decided not to press the issue further, because at that point they started apologizing for me evidently being unsatisfied with the room.... which isn't it at all! Like I said, I was used to this in China, I just want to get some plastic slippers! But I'm kind of floored that these guys who speak perfect English have no idea that bathrooms actually vary and no, in lots of places we don't simply turn our bathrooms into lakes on a daily basis... (you should see Japan... those shower units are Self! Contained!)

Also kind of annoyed that this place is absolutely chock full of rowdy young teenagers.
Oh well, everything else about the trip was gravy. I can't believe how much nicer it is to fly in a big fat plane with a little more room (just an Airbus A330... nothing too crazy, but it's a wide body). All these years I keep going on 5-hour flights on Southwest, which is 100% 737s, between Oakland and Chicago, and those things are so cramped and awful although I've gotten used to it (this is also how I got from Düsseldorf to Berlin, and the contrast was staggering). The flight from San Francisco was roomy, (nobody in the two seats next to be in the center section), the food was tasty, really very relaxing. Except it was tricky sleeping since we went from one day to the next without letting the sun ever set! We were up there over Greenland somewhere at local midnight, evidently north enough or high enough in the sky that we never lost the sun. Kind of cool to think about it shining on us over the pole, from the other side of the world....

Also, one very deserving Oscar went to:

El secreto de sus ojos ("The Secret in their Eyes"), which won the best foreign film Oscar at the most recent awards. Best god damn movie I've seen all year. Maybe in a few years. It's got a little bit of everything. Crazy good performances, completely absorbing story, and very sobering allegory too. And I'm not even someone who could really follow half of the amazing (so I'm told) wordplay. Impossible not to draw more than a few parallels with Zodiac, another great film. Not as great as this one.

In new heights of beating AT&T over the head...

I continue to feel a little bad about my seemingly ever-increasing ability to get what I want out of CSRs of enormous megacorporations whose machinations I distrust. But hey, I still haven't had specially assigned super agents assigned to deal with me yet, so I must still have a ways to go... (right heathey?). In the latest, a couple weeks ago I found that it was impossible to cancel one's AT&T DSL using the online interface (the one which of course does absolutely everything else, other than allow you to stop your service). Instead you have to call them, get through the voice-activated bullshit, wait on hold, run out of time to do the call, leave for other events, try to call back at 5pm, find that they are closed at 5 until after the weekend is over even though they claim operating hours through 7pm, finally manage to call back days later, at which point you are Not Going To Pay Another Penny beyond the day you first tried to cancel, and you might as well just have the supervisor on the line right away because you aren't going to deal with their crap any longer, by gum. Anyway, the earlier disconnect person was really quite curt with me after I called her on her obviously false claim that she "couldn't adjust" my bill to be prorated like I demanded. Suddenly she was able to credit me $5.... lying is tough to do when you're bad at it, hmmm? I think she also made several mistakes on that call, like never asking for my secret question or anything beyond my account number, yet still putting in the stop service request. When we were done, she just hung up... no goodbye, no "thank you for choosing AT&T and we hope you'll come back and use our services again." But I called back today to make sure the service had actually been stopped (it was, finally, on the 20th) and to try to get someone else to agree that since my last day of actually using the service was the 12th, that's how I should be prorated (in other words, an $8.77 discount rather than the $5 the other CSR had tossed my way). It's really not a lot of money either way, but the principle of the thing just irks me. You should be able to do it online, and it should go through that day, and they should prorate you automatically without you having to call up and be an Irate Customer (even if they don't manage to turn stuff off until later... but that's their problem). Thank goodness number porting with cell phones causes the previous service to cancel immediately, so there's no arguing to be done. Anyway, the new CSR was totally jovial, and intelligent, and asked me a secret question that I don't even remember setting up (yet I still correctly guessed what my humorously false response to it would be), and he didn't think my request was unreasonable. In fact just to smooth things over he declared that every AT&T customer gets a one-time "dispute" freebie of a full bill's balance, and since I was ending my service now and hadn't made use of it, he was just going to give it to me. So for these efforts I first went from a $34 final bill balance, to a $29 balance, and then when asking instead for a $25.23 balance, I suddenly end up with -$5.00 instead, hooray! Thanks for the free 30 bucks, CSR dude. I wonder if I ended up with him due to an "irate" flag in my file :-D

And now for more tech-related ramblings... I know some of you folks love to nerd out about these things (aren't utilities fascinating!) but others may want to skip ;-)

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Is my computer still safe?

Oh gurus of the current state of Mac OS and PC viruses, malware, and so on.... some advice please. Some of you may have gotten an obviously virus/spam message in your Facebook inbox from me today, with the subject "tua foto?!" and the phrase "Es este tu foto?" along with a link that may have been some variation on very sketchy or kind of legit-looking, and the closer "con amor!!". I'm curious, are there any known Mac OS X viruses that have successfully installed on Macs and stolen things like banking and email passwords as the user goes about their business? Last I checked there were still no known Mac OS X viruses, so hopefully I am safe, at least as far as my computer and things outside of Facebook go?

Here is the story -- On Feb. 10 I got a Facebook message from a friend in Mexico with the "Es este tu foto?" query and a link. Just my luck that it's a distant friend in a Spanish speaking country... heck I don't know what she uses for Flickr etc. over there, and the link actually had the facebook domain, the full "", at the start of it, and some more stuff with the word "photo" in it, so it seemed like some kind of photobucket thing although it was not one I had seen before. Yes yes yes lets ignore the strange mixture of Italian and grammatically incorrect Spanish... this is the internet, and people misspell things all the time. Against my better judgment, I clicked on it, it loaded a bland website of some sort, and wanted me to enter more info into blanks or register or something, at which point I said "yeah whatever" and closed my browser. That's it. No downloaded files as far as I know, nothing entered into any boxes, I didn't do anything except click the link in the facebook message. But here we are 10 days later, and at least three people reported to me today that they got this same message from me on Facebook, with different links. If you're one of these people and haven't done so already, please visit this facebook security page and report my profile URL as well as the URL of the link in the false message you received from me (don't click that link in the process of copying and pasting it!!). If you happen to have clicked on such a link, your own Facebook account is likely infected as well, which you should also report, somehow...

So anyway, I changed my FB password and reported this stuff, but I have no idea whether my account is still sending out virus messages, or how long FB will take to fix it, or anything. Is this likely to go away on its own? Am I safe to continue doing online banking and so on from my machine? Is it at all likely that I now have a keystroke logger infecting my Mac or something similarly very bad?

Fun poll - hearing test...

From isomorphisms, these pages are nice because they provide a sweep with a voiceover telling you what frequency is playing, and you merely need to hover the mouse over the little orange dot to get it to start playing. I recommend doing this with headphones at fairly high volume (especially headphones that are rated at least at 20Hz to 20kHz).

Low Frequency test
(this is more a test of your equipment - I don't know that people normally lose their ability to hear down to nearly 20 Hz)

High Frequency test

I'm 31 and I can still hear to nearly 18 kHz, go me, I guess? Hopefully I can get this to last, if I want to make a career out of audio editing... (because it's useful to be able to detect when there's a high pitched hiss that needs to be dealt with).
(I start hearing the sound ramp in right after he says "18 K", but on a different site that plays steady tones, I'm able to clearly hear the 17k tone but not the 18k one at all).

But practically speaking, given the logarithmic way that frequency relates to pitch perception, losing a few thousand hertz off the top doesn't amount to much. For example, in terms of musical notes, being unable to hear above 14 kHz amounts to losing only six half-steps (half an octave) off the top, out of a total of 10 octaves perceivable at birth! So getting older, losing the top 20th of one's perceivable pitches... no big deal. Check out this cool interval calculator (100 cents equals one half-step).